The Shift

When it comes to autumn in Jackson Hole, the first thing you notice is the warmth. While there’s always a chance there could be a wave of Indian Summer heat that tricks you into thinking shorts are still appropriate attire in October, this particular warmth has nothing to do with temperature.

The ground has already begun to freeze. Morning frost coats everything with a crystalized sugar blanket and the only rush hour traffic is above you, the honking emerging from a V of Canada Geese seeking their next roost. And, over there, the sun is just barely peaking over the eastern butte like a yawning daughter under her comforter.

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Your visible breath returns and the billowing steam rising out of your Pearl St. Bagels mug is not a warning, but rather a sign of comfort. Not only was there no coffee line, but before leaving you were already greeted with a smile from three other fellow Jacksonites, each one energized by the crisp and dewy dawn air. There’s something about that air, something different from the summer musk of suntan lotion and wildflowers. Now the aromas of wet fallen aspen leaves and a hint of high-altitude snow linger on the calm breeze.

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On the way to work, you find yourself driving behind a school bus and you stop. A gaggle of children cocooned underneath backpacks, down jackets, gloves, hats, kisses from Mom all rush to the bus and drive away. Work ticks by, as it always does, but by the day’s end, the sun has already begun to set. You click your headlights on, keeping a scanning eye out for any migrating herds on your journey home.

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Home. Once the layers are peeled off and the fire in the hearth is roaring, the next stop is the kitchen. The perfume of hunter’s stew that has been slow cooking in a crock pot all day long wafts through the air. Your friends arrive shortly after. Once the wine glasses and soup bowls are empty, you find yourselves outside far away from lights, standing in wet grass up to your knees. Off in the distance, the piercing bugle of a bull elk ignites the darkness, a solemn cry signaling autumn, more accurate than any calendar.

This is Jackson Hole.